Earlier this week, Fortune published a confessional think piece titled Female company president: “I’m sorry to all the mothers I worked with”. It is an interesting piece and one I can relate to from the other side of the desk as a woman and a mother. I will never know for absolute certain, of course, but I have educated guesses as to which jobs I didn’t get, and which projects I wasn’t assigned after having my first child relatively early in my legal career, because of the perception that I would not be sufficiently committed because I had the temerity to not hide my parenthood.
And on the one hand, I commend the author, Katharine Zaleski, for owning up to her prejudices and for going on to effectively and slyly market her new enterprise for tech inclined women who want to work from home. You go girl. I’m glad to see the conversation about how women perceive each other in the workplace opened up in a way that acknowledges how uncharitable we can all be to each other when we don’t understand how different people live. (Although, for the record, I also want to state that I do not by any means think that the majority of people who do not have children have these incredibly uncharitable thoughts, but that’s another post.)
I want to take this conversation to the next level and address what Zaleski didn’t say, which is anything at all about co-parents in this world of mothers being fabulous busy busy multitaskers. I find this sort of mom-centrism /mom-essentialism kind of unsettling and kept asking myself, what about the dads?
Of course, all families do not contain a dad, just as not all families contain a mom, which is kinda the point. This conversation needs to center around parents, not just mothers, because the real problem with how society perceives mothers is tied to the idea that the only “real” parents are moms and dads are just babysitters or hapless not-really-helpers or are above this whole parenting/mothering thing. Just look at that word, “mothering”. When’s the last time anyone verbed the noun “father”?
I am the first to admit that there is absolutely no way that my family would function if my husband were not an equal partner in keeping our household running. If anything, he probably does more around the house, in part because I have a job with relatively set hours, while he has a more irregular schedule. So week to week, he spends more time at home, meaning more time picking up the house and running to the store. The flip side is that then I spend a lot of weekend afternoons entertaining the kids while he does research or writes lectures. We have created a balance we’re all comfortable with, which is the point. Some parents and families may function better with one parent at home, or with a third co-parent, or with one parent, period.
Whether a unique family unit contains one parent or two parents or three or more parents, we need to start talking about flexibility in the workplace in a way that recognizes that women’s issues are human issues, to paraphrase Hillary Clinton. And we need to respect people’s desire to put boundaries around their work lives and home lives irrespective of gender, or even parenthood. A person shouldn’t have to have kids to set boundaries at work in order to have a live outside the office – there are lots of reasons why someone might not want to make an impromptu office happy hour and it’s really not anyone’s business.